By D W Budworth, Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal, 18, 2009
Bedford Park has, from its beginning, attracted both admirers and detractors, often vehement in expressing their views. With the benefit of hindsight, it can be seen that each side has tended to overstate its case, although both have implicitly accepted some assertions which, on closer examination, appear to be rather loosely grounded in fact.
It is sometimes overlooked that Bedford Park was essentially a commercial property development, albeit one with aesthetic and social aspirations that distinguished it from contemporary developments elsewhere in suburban London. The need to interest prospective residents, of whom most would be tenants and therefore shallowly-rooted, led to some bias in the publicity material and to instances of what nowadays would be called ‘spin’. Some of the original overstatements have been uncritically repeated by successive generations of historians and commentators, and have become firmly embedded, even, in one instance, in such a scholarly account as that given in The Victoria County History of Middlesex. Piecemeal attempts to correct some of these myths and misunderstandings have, on the whole, largely failed, and it is the purpose of this paper to describe, not by any means always for the first time, some of the myths and misunderstandings which are still current.
At its worst, the account of Bedford Park reads something like:
Bedford Park was laid out by Jonathan Thomas Carr from 1875 on 24 acres of land formerly owned by the Dukes of Bedford (the Russell family) and subsequently by the renowned botanist John Lindley, who had established there an arboretum, whose trees were carefully preserved, resulting in the winding streets which give the area much of its charm.
Nearly all these statements are wrong, as will be established below.
The origin of the Bedford name
Bedford Park was undoubtedly named after Bedford House which, with 24 acres of surrounding land, was in 1875 the first of a series of purchases eventually amounting to about 113 acres which Jonathan Thomas Carr made in pursuit of his building ambitions. The Bedford who is commemorated by the name was, however, John Bedford (1740-1805) who built, and probably designed, Bedford House and its smaller neighbours, Melbourne and Sydney Houses, in 1793. The false attribution to the Russell family may have been due to confusion with the Bedford House on Chiswick Mall, which did have such a connection.
John Bedford was born John Tubb, and took the name Bedford in 1785 at the request of an uncle. He did not name his houses, and the first known record of the name Bedford House is in autumn 1866, when Hamilton Henry Fulton, Jonathan Carr’s father-in-law, registered the birth of his last child at that address, very soon after acquiring the house, which had been advertised earlier in the year without a name. It was only nine years later that Bedford Park was started.
Some references mention ‘the brothers Bedford’ as the builders of the three Georgian houses, and indeed John Bedford’s brother Thomas, who retained the name Tubb, was named as co-purchaser of two 12-acre plots in 1792. A much-restored 1805 map of Acton, held at Ealing Library, shows the 24 acre site as belonging to ‘Tubbs Bedford’, the final ‘s’ probably having been acquired in the restoration through confusion with a Tubbs family which owned land in Acton.
Although John Bedford, with his brother, owned 24 acres (outlined on the map) from 1792, as did Hamilton Henry Fulton in 1875, the original two 12-acre plots (divided by the line of trees and a ditch) were held separately between 1811, when John Bedford’s estate was disposed of at auction, and 1872, when Hamilton Henry Fulton reunited them. Melbourne House (M) and Sydney House (S), sold in 1811 to a common purchaser, remained in separate ownership, but occupy less than three-quarters of an acre between them. The important issue here is that John Lindley, who lived at Bedford House, probably from late 1835 and certainly from 1836 until his death in 1865, never had more than 12 acres, and indeed until late 1844 he had only the house and two acres of grounds. Once in possession of an extra ten acres, he let out nine acres and used one acre to extend his garden by the creation of a secluded area with trees, bushes, and a network of winding paths, but his gardens (outlined in short dashes on the map) never significantly exceeded three acres.
John Lindley is recorded as having a collection of trees, and there are references to his particular pride in a specimen of Welllngtonia (redwood or sequoia). It is clear, however, from the description of Bedford Park by Moncure Conway, one of its early and most supportive residents, in his influential, enthusiastic – and not entirely accurate – description in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine of March 1881, that this prize specimen was in Lindley’s back garden and was sited in the grounds eventually shared between the Bedford Park Club and Jonathan Carr’s Tower House.
Further, Conway’s account makes no mention of an arboretum, and refers only to Lindley’s gardens or garden, which he seems to have known in Lindley’s lifetime, during which this simple description seems to have been used within the Lindley family. A search for references to an arboretum has so far shown the earliest to be in an advertisement in The Times of 31 March 1866 for the forthcoming sale of the house after Lindley’s death. This advertisement mentions ‘pleasure grounds well laid out and planted with choice trees and shrubs,. . . arboretum . . .’ making a clear distinction between the garden, with its trees, and the arboretum.
Bedford House was bought at the 1866 auction by Hamilton Henry Fulton, the father-in-law of Jonathan Carr, the founder in 1875 of Bedford Park. One-third of the way to this significant event, however, Fulton put the house up for sale again. The Times of 19 June 1869 and subsequent dates carries an advertisement in very similar terms to that of 1866, again mentioning an arboretum, but this time naming the house. A plan of the grounds of Bedford House which appears to have been drawn up in connection with this sale is preserved in Gunnersbury Park Museum, and this plan shows the ‘arboretum’ to be the semi-wild horn-shaped part at the north-eastern end of the garden which Lindley laid out when his grounds were extended in 1844. This area was known in the Lindley family as ‘Dunnyland’, presumably after the youngest Lindley, Barbara, whose family nickname was Dunny. When Bedford Park was built, most of this area, shaded and marked ‘1844’ on the map, disappeared under the east part of Bedford Road and the first few houses to the north of it on the west side of Woodstock Road.
It thus appears that the ‘arboretum’ was an estate agent’s rather fanciful description, and that the trees in it played no part in influencing the layout of Bedford Park.
Trees and the layout of Bedford Park
Apart from the ‘arboretum’, Lindley’s other trees – in his front and back gardens – clearly exercised no influence on the road layout, on which, as was first shown by Tom and Averil Harper Smith in The Building of Bedford Park (Acton History Group, 1992), the main influences arose from the constraints of the site. Where the, sometimes curving, roads were lined with trees, this was because the roads followed the original plot boundaries, and the trees marked those boundaries, as the maps deriving from the first large-scale Ordnance Survey of 1865-66 make clear.
The map also shows (as black dots) the position of some significant trees shown on this earlier survey. Carr claimed to have preserved ancient trees only where possible, and it is clear that some houses were sited to avoid trees – possibly from motives of economy as much as of love of trees.
The superimposition of 1866 and 1893 data on the map also makes it clear that Jonathan Carr’s own Tower House was built immediately outside the garden of Bedford House.
The winding roads of Bedford Park
Even a casual glance at the map of the original Bedford Park reveals few departures from straightness. Apart from original boundaries or rights of way, a previously unremarked influence on the layout appears to the present author to have been a desire to give prominence to corner sites, and to provide, wherever possible, rectangular plots which produced right-angled road junctions. On this basis, the observable bends in the roads and their apparent explanations are given below.
Woodstock Road follows the eastern boundary of Carr’s original 24 acres along which a track to East Acton, with its bend at the south end, had existed for many years previously.
The north-south portion of Marlborough Crescent follows (along the line of its back gardens) the boundary of the original 24-acre plot. The back gardens of the east-west portion (originally called Marlborough Road) and Blenheim Road similarly follow an original boundary. The kink in the road just west of the junction with The Avenue appears to have been an adjustment made after the construction of the corner houses, 37 and 39 The Avenue, which are considerably larger than their Marlborough Road neighbours, although comparable with the corner houses across The Avenue at the junction with Blenheim Road.
The bend at the east end of Blenheim Road seems to have been introduced to enable it to cross Woodstock Road at right angles.
The Avenue was the only one of the four major roads of Bedford Park (Bath Road and South Parade – both of which are straight – and Woodstock Road being the others) to be a completely new construction by Carr. At its south end it was constrained by the wall of Sydney House, which Carr did not own, and the bend which starts immediately north of the Sydney House grounds appears to have been introduced in order to divide the space between the eastern boundary of the original 24 acres occupied by Woodstock Road and the western boundary followed by Marlborough Crescent into reasonably equal areas. The plots on either side of The Avenue were then each divided, on the west by the straight Queen Anne’s Grove, and on the east by Queen Anne’s Gardens.
The short stretch of Bedford Road between its original end at Marlborough Crescent and The Orchard follows the southern boundary of the original 24 acre plot bought by Jonathan Carr. The road could not continue on this line without crossing Bedford House grounds over the site earmarked by Jonathan Carr for his own house, and ultimately encountering the garden wall of Sydney House. Bedford Road was accordingly curved northwards, to cross The Avenue at right angles.
T and A Harper Smith attribute the sharp bends in Queen Anne’s Gardens (about the only really conspicuous such bends in the area) to the need to provide large gardens for two early residents. This explanation is neither referenced nor entirely convincing, and at least as plausible an explanation is that they were introduced to make best use for building plots of the trapezoidal site bounded by The Avenue, Blenheim Road, Woodstock Road, and Bedford Road, noting that the road has four segments, two parallel to Woodstock Road and two parallel to The Avenue.
The Orchard was one of the later roads of the original Bedford Park, and its two bends seem to have been a necessary consequence of linking the south end (at right angles to the pre-existing South Parade) to the north end joining up with the pre-existing Bedford Road. As its name suggests, the road was built on the site of a former orchard, whose trees were clearly not preserved to any significant extent. This south east extension to the original 24 acres, acquired by Jonathan Carr on 1 April 1880, is outlined by dashes in the map.
Garden suburb or railway suburb?
Whatever the influences on it may have been, the eventual layout of Bedford Park was essentially fan-shaped, with the main public buildings near the pivot of the fan. The virtues of this aspect of Bedford Park have produced possibly the starkest difference of view amongst commentators. In Bevis Hillier’s account of ‘The Battle of Bedford Park’ in his 2004 biography of John Betjeman he quotes an official of the Ministry of Housing in 1963, in turning down an application for protection of the area, as saying: ‘And look at the layout. I mean, there isn’t one. Compare it with Hampstead Garden Suburb (which had recently been listed)’. Whereas Peter Hall (Urban Design Quarterly, July 1992) praises it in the following terms: ‘It is a brilliant piece of design, hardly ever equalled.’
The Garden Cities and Garden Suburb movement began in England some twenty years after Bedford Park was started, so there is no question of its having been developed under that banner. In retrospect, it has been seen as a forerunner of the movement, with one of the early claims having been made by Maurice B Adams in his map of Bedford Park 1877-1897, drawn in 1931 and now in Chiswick Library, a claim subsequently strengthened by the subtitle of T A Greeves’s 1975 book Bedford Park: the first garden suburb, and nowadays widely accepted. This is a matter of town planning, rather than of history, but there are two marked differences between Bedford Park and subsequent garden suburbs: first, it was restricted to middle-class inhabitants, with no attempt to produce a balanced community representative of society as a whole; and secondly, it had a pub, a type of establishment rigorously excluded from garden suburbs.
Hall characterises Bedford Park as a ‘Railway Suburb’, pointing out that, like similar and earlier examples in the US (where he says the term ‘garden suburb’ was used at about the time Bedford Park was started) and the UK, it was designed with commuters in mind, springing up as it did in close proximity to a railway station. This description is hardly controversial, and perhaps deserves to be more widely acknowledged.
Jonathan Carr’s claims
At least three features of his new development were vigorously promoted by Jonathan Carr: that there would be no habitable basements, as these were unsuitable for servants to work in; that all houses would instead be built on a six-inch-thick bed of concrete; and that there would be a perfect system of drainage. Basements indeed were not built, but it may well have been that the expense of excavation and the abundance of water in the ground were more significant factors for their omission than social concern. Some houses were built on a concrete foundation, but it appears that most were not, with some having no discernible foundations at all; and the perfect drainage system was restricted to the houses themselves, with many years passing before a satisfactory sewerage system was in place.
The split between local authorities
A press report on the early moves to protect Bedford Park, quoted by Hillier, said ‘The whole trouble started when Bedford Park was split between Chiswick and Acton. It should never have happened. It divided one of London’s finest suburbs . . .’ The implication that Bedford Park was once all under one local authority is completely wrong. In fact, the land acquired by Jonathan Carr fell into four parishes: the original 24 acres were in Acton parish; a near-triangle of about 29 acres effectively bounded by Woodstock Road, Bath Road, and the North and South Western Junction Railway (NSWJR) was a detached portion of Ealing parish, except for a small triangle at its northern tip, which was in Hammersmith parish, and the area between Bath Road and the London and South Western Railway (now the District and Piccadilly lines of the Underground) was in Chiswick parish.
In 1879, Jonathan Carr successfully petitioned for the detached part of Ealing to be transferred to Chiswick, and he did not build on the small portion of Hammersmith which he had acquired, restricting himself to Acton and Chiswick. Carr had attempted in 1878 to get Bedford Park absorbed into Acton, Brentford (surprisingly), or Chiswick; Chiswick agreed, but Acton did not. An official proposal was made in 1933 to incorporate the whole of Bedford Park into Acton and then, following strenuous objections from Brentford and Chiswick (the then local authority) to modify the boundary to include the whole of Woodstock Road in Acton, but again the objectors prevented any change from taking place. With the reorganisation of local government in 1965, the Acton part of Bedford Park became part of the London Borough of Ealing, and the Chiswick part joined the London Borough of Hounslow. Proposals to unify the area under one authority continue to be made from time to time, but, to date, no more than minor rationalising adjustments have been made.
The death of Stepniak
The refugee Russian anarchist known as Stepniak played an active part in the early life of the Bedford Park community until he was killed by a train on 23 December 1895. The train was on the now-vanished NSWJR branch which ran from a junction just north of South Acton station in an arc to a station known as Hammersmith and Chiswick on Chiswick High Road. There was a level crossing at Bath Road and it is commonly stated that it was on this crossing that Stepniak met his death. The account of the inquest, reported in The Times of 27 December 1895 makes it quite clear that the unfortunate accident happened about half a mile to the north of Bath Road, where the line was crossed by a footpath from the north end of Woodstock Road (just off the map), not far from where Stepniak lived at No 48.
Acknowledgments and sources
I am indebted over the years for help received from Lawrence Duttson, Sir Peter Hall, John Scott, Chiswick Library (Carolyn Hammond), Ealing Library (Jonathan Gates), Guildhall Library, Gunnersbury Park Museum (Vanda Foster), the London Metropolitan Archives, the London Library, and the National Archives. Sources, other than those quoted in the text, include the Middlesex Deeds Registry, Acton Gazette, The Bedford Park Gazette, The Chiswick Times, and The Times Digital Archive.
David W Budworth is a retired scientist who became interested in the history of Sydney House, Bedford Park (where he lives), an interest which led to the exhibition and publication The Legacy of John Bedford in 2005. He was then persuaded to enlarge his field of interest in order to organise another exhibition Bedford Park 40 Years On in 2007 as part of the celebrations of the 40th anniversary of the Bedford Park Festival.